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Roads in India: A quality check

An inside look at India’s road quality
In India, modernisation of roads had less attention in the earlier days. However, since the year 1995, the country witnessed improvement in road infrastructure. Though India has proved to be one of the largest road network developers, one of the striking underlying facts that stains the road network in India is the condition of the roads. The fact is, it lacks the quality.
It is important to build, expand the road network, but with quality. Despite of having the second largest road network, there’s a strong urge of having the quality roads in India. For example, during the last summer, there was a horrifying scene of road melting like Delhi, which has fuelled many questions on the quality of road building material. There can be several reasons such as poor geometrics, insufficient pavement thickness, low standards building materials, unpaid attention to quality check etc.
But one of the major reasons damaging road is overloading. Due to changes in lifestyle the number of vehicles are also increasing, urban areas are becoming congested day by day. The designing of the road depends upon the pressure created by the vehicles. The quality of Indian roads are mixture of unpaved roads, narrow and modern highways etc. Construction of roads with low quality materials will definitely disfigure the road, causing recurring improvement, renovation and high investment. All these things need attention to improve from the safety point of view.
Many road construction materials and technologies have been proved successful. But the same is needed to check under the Indian climatic conditions, traffic, rainfall, soil conditions etc. The Ministry of Road Transport and Highway is very keen to promote new material and techniques. In this article, experts detail us on the quality of road making in India. They have also put forth their view on how Indian roads can be better in the future.
Where does India stands India’s road network stands second largest in the world, but the quality of roads is still not satisfying. Most highways in India are narrow and congested with poor surface quality and 40 per cent of India’s villages do not have access to all-weather roads, resulting tough time during the monsoons. According to Gaurav Soni, General Manager, K.K. Gupta Constructions Pvt Ltd, “Infrastructural deficit is the main cause why India has not been able to develop labour-intensive manufacturing industries which could have provided employment opportunities for its millions of unskilled-skilled workers as China has done.”
From the view point of the road users, quality of a highway basically translates to the level of “smoothness” of its surface, which is measured by a Roughness Index. While major national highways and expressways in India are of international quality, the secondary and tertiary road networks leave a lot to be desired. Ashish Tandon, Managing Director at Egis India thinks India still has a long way to go when it comes to quality of the road network in the country.
Factors causing ‘bad road’Quality determines the durability. Conducting quality test before the product is out is must in terms of checking every minute details. Same is to be applied to the road checking. Various factors which govern the quality of a road are: robustness of design, quality of construction, type of pavement (bituminous or concrete), level of precipitation in the area etc.
Ajay Mishra, Managing Director, Segmental Consulting & Infrastructure Advisory Pvt Ltd states the reason that is responsible for road damaging in India is no proper planning. He says, “Poor condition of our road network is also because of lack of proper planning and funds. Earlier roads were built without proper plan and insufficient funds. Hence, no attention was being paid on quality control and time deadline. The extended time period increases the cost of project and by this way, we spend almost double the cost on construction.”
According to Mr Soni, factors address timely for proper quality are: proper survey of traffic load carried on a road so as to determine the required strength of the material; ensure zero leakage in the budget allocated to the task so as to buy better quality material for construction of roads; seeking examples from other countries to study proper drainage facilities around the road to drain off rain water as fast as possible; and proper quality tests regularly.
The main roads in India are under huge pressure and suffering capacity constraints. They are in great need of up-gradation in order to handle the increased requirements of the economy. In addition to maintenance, the expansion of the network and widening of existing roads is becoming increasingly important. This would then enable the roads to handle increased traffic and also allow for a corresponding increase in the average movement speed on roads.
Bhubaneswar Koner, Senior Consultant, CETEST Engineering, highlights the factors that needs to be improved upon. He says, “Quality should conform to the users’ requirement in all activities and projects. The quality is considered as conformance to specifications particularly in construction sector.” He thinks, there is a requirement of QAM detailing in all QA or QC procedure well in advance for commencement of service; review of all mix design and suggest modification if required; evolving a system of QA of works; inspection of performance of the work with regard to workmanship, compliance with the specifications, and necessary all tastings required for acceptance; assess and check the laboratory and field tests including independent tests etc.
Prior to the implementation of National Highways Development Programme (NHDP), almost all the national and state highways were of either single-lane or two-lane undivided roads with poor riding quality causing traffic congestions, increased journey times, accidents, higher vehicle operating costs etc. Yogesh Jain, Managing Director at PNC Infratech, noted, “With the implementation of National Highways Development Program (NHDP), the standards of roads both in terms of capacity and riding quality has improved significantly.”
However, with the continuous growth in road traffic and huge road network of 33 lakh km including district and rural roads, there is still a great need for improvement of condition of roads in the country in terms, connectivity, capacity and quality.
Cost factorRoads indirectly contribute to the economic growth of the country it is extremely essential that the roads are well laid out and strong. It is found that road building materials are not the only reason that is damaging the quality of road, sufficient fund for developing desired road is dominant among the other reasons.
“India does face major problems mainly due to large scale corruption that leads to bad quality of material being used and faulty design of construction of roads, which are defaced as soon as rainfall occurs,” Mr Soni acknowledges. “It is said that about 70 per cent of funds meant to be spent for the maintenance of roads actually goes behind paying labours.”
However, Mr Soni believes that cost is not the only factor that determines the quality of roads. He says, “Generally roads are primary funded through budgetary allocations. Central government release to national and further state to others zone. A huge difference in variations of tender cost and bid awarded value also effected to cost. Government has to work out tenders awarded on below BSR rates and to avoid this govt keep to focus on availability of new tenders on regular basis.” He also stressed, “Indian market contractors volume ratio is also high and all depends on routine works contract but when we find time gap between completion of project and new bidding process then every bidder wants to get that new tenders in any cost. There should be proper cycle and specially govt need to release calendar cycle to avoid lower rates.”
In the present scenario of budgetary constraints, road maintenance funds are spread out very thin over the entire road network, which directly translates into poor road quality. Mr Tandon says, “Once constructed, most roads which are not developed under the PPP mode get maintained through the government’s budgetary allocations.”
Modernising Indian roadsModernising the Indian roads is a huge task for the government and is of high priority. In general, roads in India are primarily bitumen-based macadamised roads. In the near future, bitumen prices will inflate, as it is made from petroleum crude oil, which is very costly. In substitution, concrete roads due to its advantages such as: durable, weather-proof and require lower maintenance compared to bituminous roads, will be preferred. Moreover, new concrete pavement technologies have been developed such as cool pavement, quiet pavement and permeable pavement, which have rendered concrete more attractive and eco-friendly.
Many new technologies have emerged, which hold promise for adoption in the country as well. The Ministry of Road Transport and Highways has accordingly been issuing guidelines for the usage of the new materials and technologies from time to time.
At the initiative of the Ministry of Road Transport and the Indian Road Congress (IRC) have set up a committee for accreditation of new materials and technologies to be used in highway construction. A number of state-of-the-art materials and technologies have already been used under this scheme. Most of these are modern, global interventions in road construction and will go a long way in modernising India’s road network.
Mr Soni opines, “Uses of latest equipment would also result in saving in construction period. Working on PPP model, BOT projects, special repair category is good action. releasing special package for tribal plan, gaurav path, cc road etc. Ministry has decided to take up road projects as turnkey Engineering Procurement Construction (EPC) contracts basis which would help to reduce construction time and is expected to improve quality of work as well.”
Govt’s role The Government of India (GOI) has already announced a policy to link all villages with population of above 500 through all-weather roads. As part of implementation of this policy, the government has commenced PMGSY (Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana) years back which has been a huge success. The PMGSY is primarily funded by GOI, with assistance from World Bank and National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (NABARD). In addition, the Asian Development Bank has announced of funding construction of over 31,000 km of rural roads in India to lend support to the PMGSY.
Indian democracy is a federal form of government. Power to enact and implement laws, such as those relating to infrastructure, are distributed between the central government and the state governments. State governments, thus have the authority and responsibility to build road networks and state highways. The Ministry of State for Surface Transport in India administers the national highway system whereas state highways and other state roads are maintained by state public works departments. The central and state governments share responsibilities for road building and maintaining Indian roads.
Issuing of e-tenders for roads and infrastructure sector  is an welcome move toward bringing transperancy. The government is also attempting to promote foreign investment in road projects.
ConclusionIndia is home to many bad roads. The country is under sever need to upgrade road sector, that will ultimately contribute towards economic growth. With the objective of rejuvenating the road sector in India, road ministry has several plans in line to be accomplished. Hopefully, India will bring new technology, skills and infrastructure that will aid to boost the road sector and change the entire road building system. ________________________________
India still has a long way to go when it comes to quality of the road network in the country.
Ashish Tandon, Managing Director, Egis India_______________________
The extended time period increases the cost of project and by this way, we spend almost double the cost on construction.
Ajay Mishra, Managing Director, Segmental Consulting & Infrastructure Advisory_______________________
Quality should conform to the users’ requirement in all activities and projects.
Bhubaneswar Koner, Sr. Consultant, CETEST Engineering_________________________
It is said that about 70 per cent of funds meant to be spent for the maintenance of roads actually goes behind paying labours.
Gaurav Soni, General Manager, K.K. Gupta Constructions______________________
With the implementation of NHDP, the standards of roads both in terms of capacity and riding quality has improved significantly.
Yogesh Jain, Managing Director, PNC Infratech_________________________


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